Friday, June 7, 2013

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Actually, Memory tracks... Brian just wrote up the following to submit to a travel website offering prizes for memories of summer trips. The prizes are modest and the main pleasure is in the recollections. It may also help our children understand why Dad always wanted to take them on trips.

First a disclosure: This was not a summer trip but what a chunk of memories it provided.

In the fall of 1954 my younger brother and I accompanied my mother and grandmother on a three-week train trip to attend the funeral of an uncle in a small town in Ontario Canada. We were in “drawing rooms” and “bedrooms” all the way, indescribably luxurious for two little boys.

We rode the old Overland Limited from San Francisco to Chicago. Bill was our waiter and it was the first time in my life (and still among the few times) that I ate lamb chops with little paper tassels on the end. We even had finger bowls.

Later my father told me the joke about the two sailors on the train (there were sailor jokes back in the 50s). In the dining car one the first sailor asks the waiter what the finger bowls are for. The waiter explains their purpose is to allow you to rinse your fingers off after eating. The waiter leaves and the second sailor says to the first, “See – ask a silly question and get a silly answer.” (Those were the kinds of jokes parents told their children back in the 50s.)

In the Chicago train station we had an eight-hour layover and my mother kept us close. One vignette stands out. We watched a man see his wife off with great affection and lots of hugs. About an hour later we saw the same man, who seemed to be acting funny. A bigger man in a three-piece suit and fedora hat went up to him and said something. The man laughed. The big man pulled something out of his pocket and showed it to him. The man made an ineffectual grab at it and the bigger man grabbed him by the arm, and then pulled him out of our sight.

My mother explained to us that the first man was “drunk” and that a policeman had arrested him. Wow! After listening to Gangbusters on the radio we finally got to see the police in action.

From Chicago we took another train to Toronto – all I remember is that it was supposed to be very fast – and yet another small train to a town near the St. Lawrence River (it wasn’t yet a Seaway). There a relative, Cousin Don, met us and took us to their home in Iroquois, a town later moved as part of the massive Seaway project.

We stayed with them and also stayed one night on the nearby dairy farm of another distant relative. There Cousin Olive showed us how to use the chamber pot if needed (they still only had an outhouse), which of course I had to try (for number one only) the next morning.

We two boys didn’t attend the actual funeral. We stayed for the afternoon with a nice lady who gave us the run of her house, which unfortunately led to another memory surrounding bodily functions. I’m still mortified all these years later that I opened the bathroom door and caught her sitting on the toilet. I closed the door and later apologized profusely (I was a polite kid) and recall that she was very nice about it. She didn’t have children and just wasn’t used to having to lock the door.

Back in Toronto, we rode a Canadian Pacific train all the way to Vancouver. I remember getting a shock from the neon-light handrail whenever we walked up the stairs in the Vista-Dome car. I asked my mother if I could buy a coke downstairs in the bar area. She told me to ask the price. The man behind the little counter had an accent and it sounded like he was saying “five ten cents.” I finally realized he was saying “fifteen cents.” My mother told me that was too expensive (pop was a nickel back then) so I didn’t get my coke.

From Vancouver we took the day-long ferry over to Victoria (no BC Ferries yet). I remember trying a pop machine (a nickel machine) that allowed you to mix the four varieties into a cup. I ended up with something undrinkable but drank it anyway. My parents trained us not to be wasteful, and I'm not surprised those machines aren't still around.

In Victoria, we stayed overnight on Halloween with old friends of my Canadian-born mother and went out trick-or-treating with just-purchased paper-mache Donald Duck masks and our raincoats. Weren’t we special! My mother’s friends had a coal furnace and gave us lumps of coal to take home with us – even back then there was show-and-tell in elementary schools and I later confirmed that real coal was a show-stopper in a California school.

From Victoria we traveled onward to Seattle. All I remember is Pike Place Market and eating for the first time in my life a hot dog with raw onions on it one rainy morning. That’s still one of my personal favorites, even though my better half makes (and prefers) cooked onions.

From there it was back down the coast to San Francisco, where my father picked us up at the train station.  That experience hooked me on travel, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. Last year we finally took that long train trip on Amtrak that I’d been waiting to do ever since – Seattle to Sacramento to Chicago to New Orleans. Four consecutive nights on the train, no lamp chops with tassels, a claustrophobic upper bunk for me, and much bumpier road-beds than I recall in 1954.

I still loved it, and every time I see a passenger train I’m ready to jump aboard. Ah, memory lane, or in my case memory tracks.


Dennis Warner said...

That was great to read Brian. I actually remember many of those things and I remember something else. I recall sitting there on the train when I saw this little white button and I wondered what it was for. So of course I pushed it and within 30 seconds along came the porter wondering if someone had pushed the button. For some reason everyone looked at me and Mom asked if I had pushed the button. My face was undoubtedly bright red as I lamely replied that I hadn't and if looks could kill the look on Mom's face would have done me in right there. So that's my #1 memory of that trip and it explains why I don't even try lying anymore.

Kathy and Brian said...

Thanks. That's a great addition, although fairly tame compared to what grandson Blane pulled off a couple of years back, hitting the 911 Emergency telephone button in the hotel room his parents were staying in.

It's proven to be good training for marriage as well. Always tell the truth. The truth is easier to remember.